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Real talk among men

A new conversation series about wellness for Black men is a joint partnership between Kaiser Permanente and a Northern California church. Pictured, "Conversations" co-creators Kim J. Scott (left) and Jessica Arline (right) with therapist Machel Best.

Mental wellness. Colorectal cancer. COVID-19. These are just a few of the topics that are being touched on in the Kaiser Permanente Community Outreach Speakers Series, the brainchild of 2 Kaiser Permanente East Bay employees.

Kim J. Scott, MSN, MBA, RN, a service unit manager in Chronic Conditions Management, and Jessica Arline, a senior public affairs representative, began the group in February after deciding they both wanted to help their community. They found their focus when they saw the void in ways for Black men of faith to share health information and concerns freely.

Partnering with Bishop Keith Clark, the pastor of Word Assembly in Oakland (with churches in Antioch and Tracy, too), Scott and Arline began by contacting Black male clinicians at Kaiser Permanente to invite them to lead talks for the existing group of up to 50 men.

“This is very different from our approaching an organization that we already have a partnership with,” Arline said. “We have a unique level of impact on a group of men we wouldn’t otherwise really be able to access. The information is critically important — and it’s also what they want to hear.”

Conversation as education

Men from all walks of life meet up every Tuesday evening for the Word Assembly men’s group called Brotherhood. During the pandemic, they’ve met online.

Machel Best, a licensed clinical social worker with 10 years of experience as a therapist working with various age groups, led May’s “Getting Your Head Straight,” which covered the importance of mental health for Black men, care through awareness and practice, and confronting mental health stigma.

Dr. Raleigh Fatoki has given 2 talks so far.

“Often people in the Black community go to the church for their spiritual support,” Best said. “They’re advised to talk with their pastor. This program provides a real health service through the context of the church community.”

The conversations are being scheduled every other month for at least a year. There’s a lot to talk about.

That’s because “African American people are disproportionately affected by bad things: cancer, hypertension, HIV, AIDS, asthma, cardiovascular disease, homicide,” said Scott.

She pointed out that moving the dial on health for the men has a ripple effect. “We are empowering people who are leaders in their families and in their communities, who people look up to, rely on, and count on.”

Talk leading to action

Raleigh Fatoki, MD, MBA, is an Internal Medicine resident physician at Kaiser Permanente Oakland pursuing a career in oncology with a focus on using technology to improve costs for people with cancer.

He has been tapped to give 2 talks so far, on COVID-19 and flu vaccinations and another on colorectal cancer screening.

“Coming in to this group to speak is easy because the weekly meetings were already happening, so we don’t need to build it from the ground up,” Dr. Fatoki said. “And coming from a similar background and experience as the men, I felt like a part of the group myself. It was almost like being with family.”

Sometimes it can be challenging to tell if a program is working.

But in the case of Dr. Fatoki’s talks, he saw real-time, tangible results in the form of participants deciding to get the COVID-19 vaccination or pursuing Kaiser Permanente’s at-home colorectal cancer screening kits they can return in the mail.

“I am stimulating the conversation instead of restating information,” he said. “The men are really sharing experiences and information. I just bring the expertise to back it up.”

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cancerDiversity and inclusionHealth AccessMen’s Health

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